What should I do?

I am an English speaker learning Italian. I'm really enjoying it and I want to get the most out of duolingo. I am up to the skill "Food" on the Italian tree and I want to know if I should spend heaps of time learning these names for different foods so that I never forget them, or if I should go through it and move on quickly to learn some other (and perhaps more important) words such as for, do, what, when, who, how, etc., and then come back to this skill later on. I spent a good deal of time going over the words in "Basics 1" and "Basics 2" learning where and when to put them in sentences, but the words in "Food" are all nouns and I just don't know if I should prioritise the memorisation of nouns over words like the aforementioned words. I hope this is clear. I want to learn properly using duolingo, I don't just want to whiz through it. Please give me your thoughts. Thanks.

January 21, 2015


My general approach to Italian on Duolingo is to use the method described by Greg Hullender ( Read his blog for the details, but briefly:

  1. Strengthen some skills every day (I strengthen 2-4 skills back to "gold")--do this first.
  2. Strengthen the most recently learned skills first
  3. Use only skill-specific strengthening and use only non-timed practice.
  4. Add a new lesson every day or so as time permits. I'll admit that some days, when time is limited, I only do strengthening, but I'm in no particular hurry to complete the course.

By following Greg's method I've found that nouns just get lodged into your brain because you see and use them so frequently. No additional memorization methods necessary. Also, things like word order start to be instinctive. The same for other language aspects, such as choosing the correct articulated preposition, getting adjectives to agree with the noun they modify, etc. I think this is all the result of steady, daily work along with the regular combination of review and new material.

I've had more trouble with verbs--first learning their meaning and, second, mastering the conjugations of all the irregular verbs. For this, I've built flash cards in Quizlet, and that seems to be helping. Learning the verbs is obviously critical, as not much of anything happens in a sentence without a verb.

Good luck with your Italian!

January 21, 2015

Just to add to what you said, if all your skills are already gold, you can do general strengthening.

I've found Memrise really useful for extra vocabulary practice. Ideally you should make your own course using the words you have difficulty with, but if you are lazy or short on time you can use a premade one.

Here is one built based on the Duolingo course:

And here is an excellent one on verb conjugations (present tense only):

For anyone a bit further on, check out this person’s Italian verb courses. They have a variety of the more complex verb conjugations (Past remote, subjunctive etc) which I found very useful. :

January 22, 2015


January 22, 2015

Thank you so much! I'll definitely follow your advice!

January 22, 2015

Mainly, just keep it fun. By far the most important thing is to do something each day. If you go through the lessons too fast, eventually you will find yourself getting confused about older words, which will make it less fun and perhaps encourage you to do some strengthening.

January 21, 2015

Most nouns should be relatively easy to learn as you can picture the object but prepositions etc are much more abstract so can be difficult to get them into our short term memory. You will likely have plenty of practice of the food nouns even outside that specific skill so if you want to move on a bit faster, that should be fine.

January 21, 2015

Thank you! A lot!

January 22, 2015

The approach I've been taking is slightly different, and it has worked well for me. Here is my daily routine: 1. Do the first 50 XP with general strengthening. 2. If there are remaining skills not at full strength, then raise them to full strength, otherwise add a new skill. 3. Continue with general strengthening as time permits.

I'm nearly finished with the tree. I've supplemented my learning with a variety of other material: a few weblogs, a bunch of Italian twitter bots, Euronews Radio, watching Italian films and television programs, a language class at the local Italian cultural institute, and the occasional practice session with a friend who is a native speaker.

In general, I'm finding Duolingo to be very good for learning standard grammar and syntax, and pretty good for pronunciation, but I'm struggling with listening comprehension and speech fluency. The class and the practice sessions with native speakers is really helping a lot with those things.

January 22, 2015

Thanks heaps for your reply! It has helped me get a clearer picture of how others use duolingo and it will help me discover the best way for me to use it!

January 22, 2015

The best advice I ever received on language learning was from a language teacher at uni. He told us to think about how young children learn language - they're bombarded with language, don't think about grammar and babble repetitively until they "get" it even if "getting" it isn't always correct. It's basically immersion. I'd say press on, don't stress about perfection and have fun with it. You can always revisit and you'll be amazed at how much you actually retain without all the worry. If only I'd known that during the five years of the pain of my French lessons at school!

I'm using Duolingo as a supplement to an evening class (only once a week but it's very helpful for practice, and has a great teacher and fun students. I'd definitely advise finding a local class).

If you have a particular subject in mind, try and find something "real" to round it out. You mention Food - look up some Italian recipes on the interwebs (written in Italian) or head for an Italian restaurant (I know, the hardship!) and see it in context.

Good luck!

January 22, 2015

Thanks. I like your comment, and I definately think you're right about immersion. I think I'll do what you suggested and look up some recipes in italian. I think giving context will help me learn more efficiently. But don't worry, I am having a lot of fun with this!

January 24, 2015

Ah, keep having fun!

You know, when you go to Italy there are five-year-olds running around speaking Italian fluently all over the place, but if you asked them what a gerund was they'd laugh at you (or start crying). Perhaps we all need to embrace our inner child? :-)

January 24, 2015

Reading recipes reinforces the subject pronouns particularly "you" (familiar or polite). For example, there are common words to every recipe such as tagliate, lavate, salate, pepate, aggiungete, servite, accompagnate. (these are all the "you, polite" subject pronoun). For me the "you" pronoun has always been the most difficult to pronounce and to learn.

January 28, 2015

I really enjoy using timed practice because you have to trust your instinct and type what initially comes to mind under a time constraint. The beauty of it is, is that if you fail, it is only 30 seconds, and you can repeat the practice again immediately. But, if you succeed, you can study the entire lesson, reinforcing a lot of skills very quickly.

January 28, 2015
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